Christian soldiers, march to war
Hold the line in Arkansas
Michael, row the board ashore
This album is mostly remembered today for featuring Bob Dylan in one of his earliest credited appearances, playing harmonica on the title track. But it’s a pretty good album all around actually, which may surprise those who know Belafonte mostly for his novelty tracks. When the album is fast paced, the energy is really through the roof and the album really works. Crawdad Song is a really great call-and-response number. Muleskinner and Did You Hear About Jerry? are both almost unbelievably fast and frantic tunes. The slow stuff works less well. There’s a “soulful” version of On Top of Old Smokey that is almost six minutes long and it just drags dreadfully. Memphis, Tennessee is, unfortunately, not the Chuck Berry tune, but rather a completely incomprehensible blues tune. I mean, the lyrics. The chorus revolves around the repeated line, “I got a new way of spelling Memphis Tennessee,” which is kind of odd, but I’m ready for some clever twist on that premise. But when that way is revealed it is “with a blues with a tears with a double ‘S’ & and a double ‘E.’” If anyone can explain what that means, I’d be glad to hear it. I mean, maybe workshop these lyrics just a bit. But as inconsistent as the album might be in the middle, it starts and ends with a bang. The album opens with a high energy rendition of the title track and it closes with the epic gospel explosion of Michael, Row the Boat Ashore, which starts out traditional and then morphs to bring the Civil Rights movement into the lyrics in a really powerful way. It’s an enjoyable album. Mostly remembered as a good trivia question, but it’s better than that. 3 stars.
tl;dr – high-energy, gospel tunes balance out the rather forgettable ballad on this surprisingly solid album. 3 stars.